Here’s what bullying looks like, in the world of Mad Men:
- Lane Pryce was bullied into having a Christmas Party, when finances didn’t warrant it.
- Pete Campbell was bullied into not staying in NYC for Christmas, b/c Trudy wanted to go away.
- Off-screen, Roger bullied someone off the wagon at a lunch (apparently).
- On-screen, Roger bullied Joan into wearing the red dress w/ a bow.
- Lee Garner, Jr. bullied Roger into being Santa (perhaps the most obvious of the bullying).
- Peggy was bullied by her boyfriend into sleeping with him, even though she didn’t really want to.
- Glenn bullies his way into Sally’s home for attention. (Kind of a stretch, but not too much of one).
Not all of this may be considered bullying…but that’s okay. Some is just persuasion. But where does persuasion cross the line into bullying?
For example: it’d be easy to argue that Roger asking Joan to dress up in red is persuasion, but Lee asking Roger to dress up in red is bullying. In each case, one person is asking another to play a specific role. Is it persuasion if it’s something we actually want, but bullying if it’s something we are simply expected and/or forced to act on?
Looking at the various levels of bullying played out in all the other characters, I’m led back to the thematic question of the season — “Who is Don Draper?” After last night’s episode, I feel like I’m supposed to ask myself, “is Don Draper a bully?” And I can’t think about that w/o thinking about the situation with his secretary, Allison.
Allison is the only one, of all the characters highlighted above, who still doesn’t have that hardness, or cynical nature, that everyone else had. Pete got bullied; that happens in his marriage, he’s accepted it. Joan & Roger wear their costumes; such is their role. Peggy is trying to hide from her past; she chooses to play to expectations and give in. Even Sally recognizes that someone made a mess of the entire house except her room, where a present remained. As an increasingly rebellious kid, Sally doesn’t tell her Mom when she figures out who broke into their house; instead, Sally welcomes the bully.
My point is — every other character was self-aware about the bullying that was going on. Neither Don nor Allison, I think, ever thought there was any bullying. Don thought he was hooking up with someone willing to come over late at night; Allison thought she was connecting with someone she cared about and used the drinking as an excuse to get something she wanted. To me, I just didn’t see any bullying there. In fact, that was probably the most boring and predictable of any of Don’s hook-ups. Doesn’t make it less worse for Allison - but it also doesn’t allow us to say, “yes, Don Draper is a bully.”
Cross that one off the list. The thematic question rolls on…and in the mean time, I’m left to wonder what it is in my life I do that I want, and what it is I do in my life simply because it is expected of me.